May 19, 2020 - Economy

Moderna has a huge day after igniting hope for coronavirus cure

Illustration of a gloved hand holding a vaccine with the Moderna logo

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Biotech company Moderna had a day for the ages on Monday and finished by announcing the issue of $1.34 billion of new stock at a hefty price.

What happened: A small number of healthy patients given the first doses of Moderna's coronavirus vaccine appeared to have generated antibody responses to the virus, according to early phase one trial data released by the company Monday.

  • Moderna, which has yet to produce any marketed drugs, saw a 20% surge in its share price Monday and now carries a market value of about $30 billion.
  • The news pushed U.S. stock indexes through important psychological resistance levels as the S&P 500 rose by more than 3%.

By the numbers: The company announced late Monday it would price an offering of 17.6 million new shares at $76 each.

  • That's about 409% higher than where it debuted on the Nasdaq in December 2018.

Yes, but: The initial data is based on eight healthy volunteers so far.

  • "This is an early snapshot of a small sample size within a trial that is focused on the vaccine's safety," Axios' Bob Herman notes.
  • "This is a positive first step, but still a first step."

Origin story: Moderna is a VC-created startup that began inside an incubator program run by Flagship Pioneering that became the first biotech unicorn, valued by venture capitalists at $3 billion in early 2015.

  • It went public in the largest-ever IPO for a development-stage biotech with an $8 billion market cap before it ever had a product on the market, as Axios' Dan Primack wrote in March.
  • The U.S. government pumped more than $480 million into the company.

Watch this space: Short sellers also have lined up to bet against the stock, data from S3 Partners shows. Moderna is the fifth-largest short in the company's domestic biotech sector with 24.5 million shares shorted.

  • The stock is currently up 309% year to date, and 320% in the past three months, after never having risen above $30 a share during its first year as a public company.

Where it stands: Moderna isn't just another biotech company. "Moderna’s core technology is designed to help people make medicines within their own cells, rather than create something in a lab which patients need to ingest or inject," Primack wrote in 2015 for Fortune.

  • "Not only does this open up a massive number of therapeutic possibilities, but it also could make Moderna’s products significantly faster to test and cheaper to buy."
Data: FactSet; Chart: Axios Visuals

Moderna's stock has taken flight since April when CEO Stéphane Bancel said the company had received as much as $483 million in taxpayer funds to accelerate development of a coronavirus vaccine, but controversy already is swirling about recently departed executive Moncef Slaoui.

  • Slaoui was appointed to co-chair the White House coronavirus vaccine project and said he would divest approximately $12.4 million worth of stock options.
  • The timing was particularly interesting after Moderna's price surge on Monday, but representatives for the Department of Health and Human Services told Primack that Slaoui resigned last week and will donate all of the proceeds from Thursday to the time of sale, expected to be tomorrow, to cancer research.
  • SEC filings showed that as of Monday morning Slaoui still had 155,438 options in Moderna, CNBC reported.

Of note: A follow-up email seeking details on when and how Slaoui would divest his options was not returned.

Go deeper: The race to make vaccines faster

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